Two Things I No Longer Really Believe

August 12, 2010 at 5:47 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve had two conversations in the past 24 hours that have brought me around to thinking about a couple of things I no longer really believe, and I’m glad I can’t bring myself to believe them anymore, because it’s already paying handsome dividends in terms of saving me time, energy and heartache.

The first is that, given the chance, absolutely everyone would prefer to fix his or her problems. This, I have come to realise, is patently false. We have differences, significant differences of personality, and some people love their problems – they’re completely, thoroughly devoted to them. These people are, with the jaundiced eye of experience, pretty easy to spot: high drama seems to follow them around, there’s always some new crisis, and they declare loud and long that they are always the victims of terrible misfortune. Again. The thing is, the latter is bound to be true – we are all touched by misfortune, it’s part of life and unavoidable, it’s just that everyone deals with it so, so differently.

Don’t get me wrong – I think this attitude of perpetual victimhood does in itself tend to cultivate more problems, in the way of bad debt, but I’ve watched too many people roll around in their problems – thrilling to them, actually, and not doing a single thing to address them – to believe it’s a coincidence. It’s not a coincidence, and it’s not bad luck. There are people in this world who, if given the opportunity to change their lot, will make the worst possible decision in relation to that opportunity. They will squander it, odds on, and then they’ll do something else: they’ll develop what I like to call Opportunity Amnesia. In short order, all memory and evidence of said opportunity will cease to exist. Oh no, they didn’t blow it – it was never there in the first place, not like it is for other people, and therefore nothing of whatever follows is ever their fault.

Now, I am someone who has made a lifelong habit of capitalising on every opportunity that’s ever been sent my way. I actively embrace my best chance, every time. This does not, as some would have it, mean I have had any more opportunities thrown my way than others – it simply means that I have reacted to the circumstances of them in a very particular way. This is my personality, something I do actively but instinctively, and some people – given the precise same set of circumstances – will always choose differently.

I understand this now.

So when my friend called me yesterday to have a meltdown about someone close in her life that suffers from (wilful) Opportunity Amnesia, I knew how frustrated she was. For a start, I could hear it – her disbelief, her bewilderment, and her utter, utter exhaustion. I could also recognise it, because I have been there plenty of times myself.

“She’s not going to change,” I heard myself saying. “You’re different people. You want her to embrace your advice, she should take your advice, but you know what? She won’t, probably not ever, so you just have to figure out what you can live with, otherwise you’ll only drive yourself insane. And you’ll keep getting sucked into her vortex. This is your routine together, these are the parts you play, and I’m afraid you can only change your role in her drama. You want to keep offering her answers and advice and sensible solutions, but the fact is, she doesn’t want ’em.’”

This is merely an opinion – mine – and it’s bound to be unpopular, because on the surface it sounds so… uncharitable. It sounds as though I don’t acknowledge that some people truly have a much harder time of it, and find life a genuine struggle. I can see that – there is abundant evidence of this fact all around me, and I would have to be a particular kind of asshole not to acknowledge, lament, and even try to alleviate it in whatever ways are open to me. I’m just saying I have seen another type of person in action too – and this type of person requires and accepts a whole vast fleet of support systems, and then systemically compromises every benefit afforded by it. I think it’s pathological behaviour, I really do. I no longer believe that everyone wants to find the way out. Some people are determined to stay in strife – they thrive on it, and if you don’t, then I suggest that like me, you learn to keep your distance where at all possible, because I no longer believe there’s much point in these two types of people having much to do with each other. They are fundamentally incompatible – some people are, it’s not a crime – so why keep doing it to each other, why keep trying to force things to be other than they are? Much better, I have learned, to say good luck with that, but I respectfully decline to come along for the ride.

The other thing I no longer believe is that there is such a thing, truly, as a ‘mixed message.’ Another friend emailed today to bemoan a failed romance, and the guy’s many mixed messages. I read through the list of confusing, contradictory statements he’d made to her, and then I wrote back.

‘You know, honey, I am at a point in my life where I don’t much believe in mixed messages. I think that there is usually only one, but some people seem to feel the need to dress it up and try to pass it off as something else. It’s his loss; I suggest you leave him to it.’

This wasn’t an easy thing to say, because it’s natural to gravitate to the more positive messages in the mix, they’re so much nicer, but everything else he did and said belies those messages, and lays bare the only one that ultimately counts: he doesn’t want to be with her. That’s the message. It’s the only message – there’s nothing mixed about it. That doesn’t make the other sentiments untrue, it just means they’re not really part of the message he is trying to communicate. And as I think about this situation more and more – the template of message transmission, if you like – the more I think they never or rarely are. People may have trouble articulating their message. They may genuinely wish to avoid inflicting hurt on another person. They may have positive feelings that they want to share with you, because they think these will help cushion the blow. But none of this ever changes or mixes the fundamental message. Because when you do want to be with someone, it’s very easy to express. Elementary. And I no longer believe that it’s any harder to express the opposite – some people just make it hard. Maybe they do this with very good intentions, but really, they’re merely accessorising at this point, because what they’re really saying is no.

And these days, well, I don’t know about you, but if  ‘no’ is what someone is saying to me, I’d really prefer they cut the crap. Life is too short to sift through so-called mixed messages like I’m panning for gold. Increasingly it seems to me that the nugget is always plain to see.



  1. Charlotte said,

    So right, Di. I know a couple of professional victims and I think there’s a level of addiction to their victimhood. I can’t be around that kind of energy so I generally escape the friendship, but unfortunately one is in my extended family so I can’t shake her off. One thing I have learnt is to stop offering advice at all. Instead I just listen, for short periods of time and then find myself very busy and excuse myself from the spiral of self-justification.

    I find selected victimhood highly unappealing as a quality and the worst thing I can say about someone is that they ‘refuse to grow’. I find it hard to be around people who are being thrown chances to grow, develop and improve but who chuck them aside to stay in the same rut.

    I know it’s fear. But, like you, as an opportunity grabber, I believe in facing the fear, and getting on with it.

    As for the mixed messages, so true. There’s only one message.

    • doctordi said,

      Yes, I definitely agree that there’s an element of addiction, Charlotte of the Burg. I guess you’re right – it probably is fear. I’ve never been able to really grasp the root of it, but that’s probably it, and my own inability to understand it is driven, as you say, by a very different approach to fear itself. I’m no less afraid, I just tend to square my shoulders. Interesting.

  2. Grad said,

    You are absolutely right on both counts. Years ago I had a secretary who constantly came to me with the same recurring problems. I’d listen and I’d give her my best sage (and, I always believed, sound and common sense) advice. My advice never waivered; but, she never took it. Weeks later there she was again in my office spilling out the same troubles. It was like being hit over the head with a frying pan when I suddenly realized she didn’t really want a solution at all. She just wanted a stage. It was difficult, (I’m as much a pushover as a supervisor as I am a mother) but I finally told her my honest assessment of her. I said, “My advice on this issue will remain unchanged each time you ask for it. Since you refuse to take it, I regret to say you will have to find a different audience.” She left in a huff, but I’m sure she found another (more patient) ear. I’m very sensitive to hurting people’s feelings, but I grew to believe some people are pretty well armoured in that respect. Criticism such as mine, which would have shaken me out of that behavior had the situation been reversed, was merely a pebble thrown on a steel roof to her – it didn’t make a dent. She simply moved on. And you are once again correct, you can dress it up all you like, but No is No. Someone once asked me why I never seemed jealous in my marriage. I said, “If someone can catch him, they can have him. It means he doesn’t want to be with me.” When “no” happens, it hurts, but it isn’t fatal.

    • doctordi said,

      Graddikins, good for you, calling her on it!! I definitely have a limit too, and you’re dead right about your criticism bouncing off the roof – this type of person is remarkably well insulated, maybe because they’re so coddled and swaddled in their dissatisfactions.

      ‘No’ is horrible, absolutely – no wonder people cling to the other loose threads – but you’re right. It’s not fatal, and time usually reveals a lucky escape. Sometimes saying ‘no’ is the biggest favour two people can do for each other.

  3. Jodie said,

    Very smart observations here, especially that last one. I think it takes a long time to learn that one and forbid that we confuse it with the ‘He’s just not that into you’ philosphy – as if the man always get to choose and we just hang about waiting. It’s really about respecting yourself and knowing you’re worth things that the person can’t see (ick that sounded like it was out of a self-help book didn’t it – please replace it in your mind with something smarter).

    • doctordi said,

      Not ick at all, Jodie!!! Actually I think you’ve highlighted one of the most frustrating things about these realisations: it’s taken a very long time to get to this point. I went through years and years, particularly my late teens and 20s, of *obsessively* translating ‘mixed messages,’ looking for the message I wanted to find and wilfully ignoring the one that was there all along. My friend still isn’t quite there in the clear-eyed department, and some people never get there, reenacting this same doomed drama over and over and over again, which is a tragedy.

  4. Litlove said,

    I agree with you on both counts, too. It doesn’t always have to be victimhood, quite often, people use their problems to stay safe and avoid anything that takes them beyond the comfort zone. And since that fear comes from the ancient lizard brain, it’s very strong and demands to be paid attention to (even if it’s the modern mind that overlays it with complicated reasoning). But I agree that from the outside it’s incredibly hard to witness, not least if you’re the kind of person who wants to take the lizard brain on and challenge it.

    And the mixed messages thing. Ahhh, alas, anything other than enthusiasm is usually death to a relationship. Mixed messages are just a slow death. That’s sad too. Why can’t people be straightforward? But on the plus side, it’s because we’re all so twisted that we have novels.

    • doctordi said,

      That’s a very good point, LL. There’s an element of risk aversion too – it’s not always victimhood, you’re right. But what’s so safe about perpetuating your own misery?? I just have an antithetical response to all this stuff – I honestly can’t bear to be around it indefinitely – at a certain point, I just have to get away. At pace.

      Yep, it is sad. I totally agree – it’s just a slow death, prolonging the inevitable, and although some people think they’re cushioning the blow, in fact what they’re really doing is inflicting it repeatedly by dragging it out when they know it’s not right. And people DO know it’s not right.

      That’s a big plus!!!!

  5. Lilian Nattel said,

    Yes, right–those are both good things to learn and they come through experience. That’s the benefit of getting older. Energy gets more focused. Kids help with that, too.

    • doctordi said,

      It’s a shame it does take age, Lilian – I could have REALLY used this perspective 15, 20 years ago!!! But yes, I very highly value the focused energy of the past few years. It simplifies things in ways I find productive.

  6. Norwichrocks said,

    Good lord, this post – both parts – really touched a chord with me. I have ZERO patience with people who repeatedly ask for advice but never act on it or who bemoan their lot without ever making any real effort to improve it.

    And I think it often has less to do with fear and more to do with victimhood being the easier path. Blaming everyone else for one’s misfortunes is a darn sight simpler than forcing oneself to acknowledge one’s mistakes and errors of judgement, and changing one’s behaviour as a result.

    However, I know I have been guilty of willfully reading mixed-messages into my relationship with a friend of mine. Not because he is actually sending mixed messages – his messages are classic ‘I like you and enjoy spending time with you and don’t want to hurt your feelings but I don’t fancy you and don’t want to date you’ – but because I WANT him to be sending mixed messages.

    I’ll be seeing him when I return to the UK, we’re going walking together for a day, and so I will have stern words with myself beforehand. 😉

    • doctordi said,

      Yep, I’d agree with that too – I do tend to think part of it is laziness. At the very least, passivity, which so often leads to the same thing – a chronic failure to ACT.

      Truce, that’s an excellent observation – that mixed messages aren’t necessarily transmitted that way but are *received* as such by those eager to believe one thing and reluctant to believe another. I think most of us would recognise ourselves as guilty of this on at least one occasion – I have been deliberately DENSE in my youthful unwillingness to accept he loved me not.

  7. Pete said,

    Yes, I also agree. It’s difficult not to give advice though, especially in my position. The times I wish I could have played the busy-ness card! But what I do is subtly look at the clock and count down the minutes. Or give it back. Short bursts of emotional honesty I think it’s called. As for the mixed messages, I agree with you but i also think that some people are too quick to jump to the conclusion that the person isn’t interested. I once told a girl that I really valued our friendship and she took it as a sign that I wasn’t interested in her romantically and that I just wanted to be friends. By the time we’d cleared up the misunderstanding it was too late. So what I’m saying is that the message receiver also has to be clear that they are not hearing what they expect to hear. It’s nice to be able to decide “S/he’s just not that into me” but the message is often more complicated than that. But on the whole I agree!

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